Sunday 5 April 2020

How to keep children healthy, happy and learning during school closures

Schools have shut for all children except those whose parents are considered key workers

As schools across the UK have closed, parents up and down the country face the task of keeping their children healthy, happy and learning at home.

Schools are now only open to children of key workers and those who are vulnerable, in a bid to help stop the spread of the virus.

Nurseries, primary and sixth forms are all affected by the measures, and officials say it could be as late as September before many re-open.

Summer exams have been cancelled in England, Scotland and Wales; this includes GCSEs and A-levels in England and Wales, as well as primary school national curriculum tests, known as Sats, in England.

So, with school closed for the foreseeable future, how can parents look out for each other and make sure that their children stay healthy and happy?

Maintain a routine

It can be hard to maintain a routine for both adults and children when you face an entire day spent in the house - things quickly become unstructured.

"I think one of the biggest challenges for children during the school closures will be a lack of routine," Claire Goodwin-Fee, a psychotherapy practitioner tells The Independent.
"Trying to mimic a classroom environment at home just isn't going to work, but setting out roughly what you plan to do each day will really help," she adds.

"I suggest that parents try and stick to a structure and routine of some kind," Natalie Costa, an education coach, explains. Older children can create a timetable to help them structure their days, Costa recommends.
Goodwin-Fee also says holding a family meeting where everyone can discuss the changes taking place at home. Children may have questions and it's important that parents take the time to explain the coronavirus outbreak in an age-appropriate way.

Ensuring that children maintain a routine throughout the coming weeks and months will be vital but Sam Cartwright-Hatton, professor of clinical child psychology at the University of Sussex, also stresses the importance of flexibility and says parents should avoid an overly top-down approach to planning.

Exercise and activity
Everyone knows that exercise improves physical health. But perhaps what is less known is the impact it can have on our mental health - this is especially true for children.

Cartwright-Hatton says: "Solitary confinement is not good for human beings, we don't cope with it terribly well - especially children."

Children and young people need to do two types of physical activity each week in order to stay healthy, according to official NHS guidance. This includes aerobic exercise, such as running, as well as exercises to strengthen their muscles and bones.

"Aim for an average of at least 60 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a day across the week," the advice states. "Take part in a variety of types and intensities of physical activity across the week to develop movement skills, muscles and bones."

The guidance also asks parents to reduce the time their children spend sitting or lying down and break up long periods of not moving with some form of activity, such as walking. "Aim to spread the activity throughout the day. All activities should make you breathe faster and feel warmer", it adds.

"While it’s important to review learning I’d also suggest that parents allow opportunities for children to spend time outside, whether that’s going for a mindful walk or something as simple as playing in the garden," says Costa.

Dancing can also help children keep active. Costa recommends parents ask their kids to create music playlists that they can move to or follow a routine by online body coach Joe Wicks.

Focused activities such as puzzles and building Lego constructions can help keep children occupied while arts and crafts help them stay creative. But Goodwin-Fee asks parents to remember that these methods won't work for every child.

"It really depends on what your child enjoys doing," she says. "Some kids love arts and crafts while others hate it. Try and introduce them to new things such as cooking or baking".

Socialise as much as possible
Children will undoubtedly miss their classmates and crave the social aspect provided by the classroom. But Goodwin-Fee says parents can make use of technology to fill the void.

"Setting up playdates via Skype or Zoom can help while in self-isolation," she says.

"My school has sent homework for my child to do, and what I've planned to do is go online with some of the members of his class see we can all see each other and discuss assignments."

Continue learning where you can
Many schools have already begun preparing packs and materials for children to use at home, while a number of charities and education firms are offering resources on their websites.

The National Literacy Trust also launched an online zone for parents looking for ideas and activities whilst their children are home due to school closures. It includes reading and writing activities, book lists, videos, competitions and reading challenges.

Chief executive Jonathan Douglas said: "We want to ensure that every parent across the UK has access to a wide range of exciting activities that will engage their children at home whilst also supporting their literacy development."

Home learning provider Exemplar Education said it has written to schools offering free access to its online maths tuition programme, with lessons available for youngsters aged five to 16.

Meanwhile, the BBC announced it would ramp us its educational programmes to help parents staying home with children. Announcing the move on Wednesday, director general Tony Hall, said the corporation had a special role to play at this time of national need.

"We will also be launching a whole new iPlayer experience for children.  And of course, there will be entertainment – with the ambition of giving people some escapism and hopefully the odd smile."

Youth music development charity NYMAZ is also putting together a package of support to help music teachers and music hubs to offer online lessons and events.

While parents may be anxious to ensure that their children are learning at home, DECP advises that they don't place too much emphasis on doing academic work: "Parents and carers aren't teachers, and it is important to also spend time building relationships, enjoying shared activities and reassuring children."

10 helpful websites resources to keep the kids busy
1) 123 Homeschool for ME
Free printable worksheets and educational activities to help making learning fun. Resources arranged by grade or subject.

2) 2Simple
Purple Mash is a website designed for children aged 3-11. It contains many creative tools ie: coding, animation, publishing, art and also applications for maths, spelling and grammar.

3) BBC Bitesize
Bitesize is the BBC's free online study support resource for school-age students in the United Kingdom. It is designed to aid students in both schoolwork and, for older students, exams.

4) 5-a-day
Lots of exercise activties for movement breaks.

ABDO's entire eBook collection is now available to students to access at home for free.

6) ActivityVillage
Activity Village provides thousands of colouring pages, crafts, puzzles, worksheets and more, for parents and teachers.

7) All Kids Network
We offer FREE educational resources, worksheets, writing prompts, themed colouring pages, craft and snack ideas for parents, teachers and caregivers.

8) Artrageous with Nate
Videos about artists and art projects to create.

9) Bamboo Learning
Bamboo Learning offers FREE voice-based applications (Alexa skills) that cover a range of academic subjects, including math, ELA/listening comprehension, and social studies.

10) Black Box Education
Digital and interactive resources for drama, dance and theatre.

(Source: Independent)

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